Category Archives: Iowa Online AP Academy

ICYMI – When IOAPA Staff are Stretched Thin

As you begin to wrap up one semester and plan for the next, we hope this information, originally published in January 2016, will be useful!

In many rural schools, staff take on multiple roles in order to provide a wealth of experiences to their students. However, this often means that teachers are stretched thin in terms of time and resources available for working with students. In many instances, gifted education programs are hardest hit. Gifted coordinators in rural areas often work with students at all grade levels and may not interact with their students every day given the many tasks they have to complete. For our IOAPA schools, this sometimes presents challenges in terms of monitoring student progress, assessing for concerns or difficulties with courses or technology, and working to build relationships where students can ask for help. How can IOAPA coordinators make their program successful despite these constraints?

  • Develop a learning plan with your students. Although most students benefit from clear goals and plans to accomplish them, a learning plan or contract may be particularly useful for IOAPA coordinators filling multiple roles. The learning plan can be used not only to address content or course-specific goals, but also to ask for student input on how you as a site coordinator can best support them and help them meet their goals. Through development of a learning plan with your students, coordinators can know what student goals are for the course as well as strategies that might be useful for success.
  • Plan for check-in daily (even if not face to face). Although online courses encourage students to work independently, it is often still helpful to know that the site coordinators and mentors at their school are available for support. For teachers who many not interact with their students daily, checking in using technology or planning for a regular status update from your students can help you keep tabs on students who may be struggling.
  • Find someone to support your students on-site while they work. If you aren’t available on-site for your IOAPA students’ courses due to scheduling conflicts, make sure that they have someone available to supervise and ensure they are working on their IOAPA coursework. This can range from arranging for students to sit with other teachers during prep periods or study halls or finding teachers to act as mentors (more on that below).
  • Plan for time when students can ask questions. Another key part of supporting your students is ensuring availability for answering questions and providing support even if you do not interact with them regularly. Site coordinators might implement time before or after school for answering questions for their students on a regular basis. Another tool IOAPA site coordinators might use is setting up progress meetings at set points throughout the semester. Progress meetings will allow for face-to-face contact with your students and will help you identify areas in which they might need additional support.
  • Ask an on-site teacher to act as a mentor. Participation in IOAPA requires the establishment of a designated site coordinator and mentor to provide on-site support to your IOAPA students. Although many schools choose to have only one person in these roles, such as the TAG Coordinator, schools can choose to designate a separate mentor or mentors for their IOAPA students. The TAG Coordinator would then take on responsibilities related to the IOAPA site coordinator position while the on-the-ground work would become part of the IOAPA mentor’s duties. For IOAPA site coordinators who fill multiple roles, this can be a good way for a staff member on-site to build a relationship with your IOAPA students and aid in navigating any challenges that students might experience. We recommend considering mentors for your students who:
    • Are available in some way during your IOAPA student’s class time (this might include having students work independently in the classroom while the mentor teaches so that the mentor can check in on them)
    • Are trusted by the mentee. The student may have already developed a relationship with them from previous courses or activities, which can create a system of accountability.
    • Can contribute meaningfully to their IOAPA course due to shared experiences with the student. Although it is not a requirement that a mentor be an expert in the course subject, mentors who can relate personally to the student as well as aid in learning course material can be beneficial when students are feeling struck.
    • Provide feedback with high expectations and belief in abilities. Mentors often act as one of the primary encouragers to their students—by knowing that the mentors are part of their support network, students may be more likely to persist when coursework becomes challenging.

Other ideas and sources of support for IOAPA site coordinators and mentors can be found in the IOAPA Handbook or through participation in the IOAPA Mentor Network. For more about the IOAPA model, visit our website at belinblank.org/ioapa.

Computer Science Education in Iowa

At the end of April, then-Governor Branstad signed Senate File 274 into law, establishing goals for expanding computer science education opportunities for Iowa students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Read more about the bill here. These goals include: offering at least one CS course in each high school and offering basic and exploratory computer science instruction in each elementary and middle school.

The bill also created a work group to make recommendations for meeting these goals by July 1, 2019. The Computer Science Education Work Group released their final report last week. The report includes detailed recommendations for using CS courses to satisfy graduation requirements, integrating CS courses into a career and technical education (CTE) pathway, ensuring equitable access by offering courses in a number of settings, developing a scope and sequence for CS education, and using the CS professional development fund to meet goals. It will be exciting to see these recommendations turn into actions to expand CS education access to all students in Iowa.

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Through the Iowa Online AP Academy, high-ability Iowa students in 6th through 12th grades can access above-level CS coursework, and teachers can take advantage of professional development opportunities. Registration for our spring-semester Introduction to Computer Science course for students in 6th-9th grades is available now; visit our website for more on courses and registration.

Course Resources for IOAPA Mentors

The Iowa Online AP Academy consistently strives to provide the best possible support for our mentors, and we are proud to partner with course vendors who share that goal. Both Apex and Edhesive provide extensive resources to facilitate the use of the course platforms and to promote best practices in online learning. Some of these resources, including a new webinar series for AP Computer Science A, will be described below.

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Edhesive
For our computer science mentors, several course functionalities have been discussed in some detail in previous blog posts, like this one and this one. Edhesive has curated course-specific Support sections, available to each coach (a.k.a. mentor) through their Edhesive dashboard. Support materials in this section include information about teaching in blended classrooms, specific information about course tools such as Code Runner, and resources to guide course pacing to facilitate on-time completion of the material.

In addition to these materials, Edhesive recently presented a series of webinars for AP Computer Science A coaches. The three webinars in this series discuss: getting started with AP CSA; tips, tricks, and tools for using Canvas; and suggestions for maximizing use of the forums. These webinars were recorded, and can be viewed by AP Computer Science A mentors by visiting the Help section (as indicated in the screenshot below) and scrolling to the last module.

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Apex Learning
For the rest of our mentors, Apex Learning offers several methods for obtaining support. In Help Home, which can be accessed from the mentor dashboard, mentors will find Getting Started guides for staff and students, which present information on using the course platform. In addition, there are course-specific syllabi and guides to provide an overview of course content and aid in pacing. Finally, in the Help Home section, mentors can find answers to many “How To” questions concerning the course platform.

Another useful support resource through Apex is the Educator Academy. In this section, you can find video modules and webinars on using different features of the course site, as well as program resources to inform implementation of online learning options at the school level. Some aspects of implementation are guided by participation through IOAPA, but examination of these resources may help guide decisions about school-level policies and practices around IOAPA courses specifically, and online learning in general. In addition, the Educator Academy includes a Community feature in which all teachers of Apex courses can read and pose questions for other teachers and Apex staff.

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We hope the support resources highlighted here can be of assistance. We also have a wealth of support resources on our website, www.belinblank.org/ioapa. Visit the Support Materials section to view the Handbook, our infographics, and other resources for selecting and implementing IOAPA courses. Don’t forget, spring registration for IOAPA opened this week, and classes will fill up quickly. Get the registration process started today!

An Exciting Javits-Funded New Project

We are thrilled to announce that we have received a Javits grant!  The joint project – by co-PIs Professors Susan Assouline, Saba Ali, and Megan Foley-Nicpon, and methodologist Dr. Duhita Mahatmya – consists of a five-year, $2.1 million plan to increase educators’ capacity to identify and provide talented and gifted programming to underrepresented students in Iowa.  Dr. Ali, Associate Dean for Research in the University of Iowa College of Education, and Drs. Assouline, Foley Nicpon, Mahatmya, of the Belin-Blank Center, will use a career intervention Dr. Ali developed, along with I-Excel, a Belin-Blank Center online above-level assessment, to further the goals of this project.

We are fortunate to bring talent and career development opportunities to students with disabilities and students of color living in rural Iowa communities…I look forward to the difference we will make for many students who otherwise would never have been seen or heard.

– Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon

The title of the effort is the “Culturally Responsive Talent Identification and Career Exploration (TICE).”  According to the project abstract, “[u]nderrepresented students, especially students from economically  disadvantaged backgrounds, students of color, rural students, and students with disabilities, are at risk of being overlooked for participation in talented and gifted programs. Project personnel will integrate an expanded talent development model…and a career intervention program…to maximize the identification and development of underrepresented talented and gifted students.”  The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) will also contribute to this project, broadening the courses available to these students by offering online coursework in the schools.  We look forward to this opportunity to use the experience and knowledge of the Belin-Blank Center and the College of Education from the last several decades to impact bright students who are so often overlooked.

 

Discovering Talented Students: Using Content-Area Scores for IOAPA Eligibility

The partnership between the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) is a great way to connect talented students with appropriate assessment and educational opportunities.

Eligibility for IOAPA middle school courses is determined through use of grade-level (Iowa Assessments) and above-level (I-Excel or ACT) assessments. BESTS recommends nominating students who earn scores at or above the 95th percentile on grade-level standardized tests for above-level testing. (If your school uses eITP, check out this great tool for an easy way to find these students!)

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Scores at or above the 50th percentile on an above-level test are indicative of a need for additional challenge, such as that provided by IOAPA courses. For further discussion of above-level testing and using the scores, check out our past blog posts, especially this one and this one. Above-level assessments can provide individual domain scores specific to each content area measured, and an overall composite score reflecting performance across areas.

IOAPA recommends using content-area scores, rather than overall scores, to ensure that advanced learning opportunities are available to all talented students in their area(s) of strength. I-Excel and ACT both yield scores in Science, Mathematics, English, and Reading. ACT also includes a Writing section that yields its own score. The table below details the relevant content area score(s) for each of our IOAPA middle school courses.

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In addition to the guidelines in the table above, consideration of course prerequisites can be useful when debating in what subject area(s) students should qualify. This information is available from the IOAPA course catalog by clicking “Learn more.” under the course(s) of interest.

For additional information on BESTS, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search or email assessment@belinblank.org. For further information on IOAPA, visit www.belinblank.org/ioapa or email ioapa@belinblank.org.

Why IOAPA?

As we approach the beginning of spring registration, students might be wondering why they should consider taking AP courses in general, and IOAPA courses specifically. Here are just a few reasons we feel strongly about making online advanced learning opportunities available for students.

  • IOAPA courses extend opportunities not available in person. For many students in Iowa, geography and school resources can too often dictate the opportunities to which they have access. IOAPA reduces these influences by providing free, online courses and AP Exam Reviews, and partnering with schools to make in-person support and AP Exams available.
  • IOAPA courses allow for flexibility in learning. IOAPA courses are scheduled into students’ regular school day, which increases opportunities for accessing support and likelihood of completing the work. However, the courses are independent, which allows students to set their own goals and priorities and complete the work on their terms. This flexibility and independence enables students to practice and develop skills beyond those taught in the coursework.
  • Online courses offer unique challenges. In addition to the rigor of above-level courses, IOAPA students learn how to navigate a virtual learning environment, manage time with other commitments, and advocate for their educational needs. IOAPA is a great learning environment for online courses because it provides students with additional support as they become familiar with the process of online learning. As enrollment in online courses increases, early experiences with the nuances of online coursework prepare students for this unique learning situation.
  • AP courses are nationally recognized. Because AP courses are administered by The College Board, class standards are consistent regardless of where or how you complete the course. Receiving AP exam credit demonstrates a certain level of proficiency that colleges and universities can then use to determine placement. Also, it’s easy to determine how credits might transfer regardless of where you attend college using the database managed by The College Board.
  • Colleges like AP. Researchers in higher education have found relationships between AP participation and achievement, readiness, and college degree attainment. Reporting a commitment to academic challenge like taking AP courses early on reflects positively on students’ drive to succeed post-high school.

If these reasons have been convincing, head over to our website, www.belinblank.org/ioapa for more information, including the course catalog and registration procedures. Spring registration opens November 1, 2017.

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IOAPA 2016 Annual Report

Each year, IOAPA staff develop a report demonstrating the progress we’ve made toward our goal of making advanced learning opportunities available for all Iowa students. If you’re curious about what we achieved in 2016-2017, check out this infographic for an overview. You can also find many more details in the public annual report posted on our website.

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